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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Goowy wants to make you a spammer!

There is an e-mail program called Goowy which is one of a species of software I call ‘landmine-ware’, which is to say during the sign up process, on one of those bits no one actually reads, there is a yes-by-default opt-in box that allows the software to do something very few people would agree to if they actually noticed what they were being asked to agree to.

A friend of mine just signed up for Goowy and as a result Goowy just imported her entire contacts list from Gmail and spammed them all (including me) with invitations to sign up for Goowy. Now as this was technically permitted by the default-yes selected check box, there is nothing clearly actionable about this. However as no one would usually agree to their entire email address book being spammed by a third party, it would be fair to say Goowy counts on people just not realising what they are ‘consenting’ to and thus relying on people’s natural tendency to not carefully watch every step they take (hence my description of Goowy as ‘landmineware’)

Now just to spare all the obsessive libertarians reading this from getting their knickers in a contractarian twist, just because something may not be immoral theft (i.e. Goowy did not ‘steal’ permission to spam in your name) it does not mean it should be socially respectable to trick people into doing something either. Yes, ideally we should all read every line of the disclaimer on every single thing we sign up for on the internet. Yet other than a few obsessives, no one actually does that in the real world as there is a general expectation that nowadays companies understand how much spammers are hated and what bad PR can be generated by acting like a spammer. Sadly Goovy suggests that this expectation is not quite as dependable as it should be.

At the very least, tricking people into in effect becoming spammers gets people like me writing nasty things about any company who would do that. In short, any company who resorts to abusing what is typical customer behaviour should not be trusted. Even if tomorrow Goowy announced it was going to make that option default-no rather than default-yes (i.e. permission to spam your entire address book of contacts), I would not allow them to be anywhere near my personal email and I suggest you do not either.

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35 comments to Goowy wants to make you a spammer!

  • Tuscan Tony

    Thanks for the post, Perry, I’ll confine my cunningly human sounding invite received from someone purporting to be “Adriana” to the round file under my desk then!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    An important issue is one of market ostracism. If this firm is doing such things and enough people Perry make a stink, then the firm will rapidly have to change course or find itself down the U-bend. I trust consumer magazines and the like make a racket.

  • asus phreak

    An important issue is one of market ostracism

    And that sensible observation is exactly why I like this blog and the people who write for it! Just because something is legal doen’t mean it should be acceptable.

    BTW, I predict the term landmineware entering the on-line lexacon. It is the perfect description of this sort of unacceptable sharp practice.

  • More ironic is that SpamFighter does it… And uses your own name. I had many contacts asking me for more info!

  • guy herbert

    And me! Fortunately I was unable to understand the rather techy nature of the offer–what’s a widget, when it is on your desktop, and why should I want a powerful one?–so wasn’t remotely tempted by it.

    I note that the Plaxo messages I used to receive with some regularity a year back seem to have died out, so the complaining emails to the several poor fools concerned in that case must have done some good.

  • I normally ignore such applications and spam from people asking me to sign up to this or other. However, this one looked like it was an email from someone who’s web savvy and the only reason I followed the invite through was because of his reputation and credibility.

    Also, it is obviously a trick to get you agree to spam others, otherwise, why would you want to recommend a service or product to your friends, when you are yourself just signing up to it and have no idea if it’s any good yet?!

    And final twist of this spam misadventure was Gmail’s automatic inclusion of anyone I even exchanged an email into my contact list. That’s supposed to be convenient but proved a nightmare in this case.

  • Chris Harper

    There are a couple of unified messaging sites which do the same thing as well.

    About a year or so ago I had friends invite me to join these great new sites they had signed up to, but when I had a look the sites wanted to gain access to my hotmail account and addressbook.

    I declined to join either of them.

    Still get the spams urging me to join though.

  • Verity

    Doesn’t Comcast do something similar?

  • Jay

    Yep, I got one of those “Adriana” e-mails too. The site even looked interesting, based on the description and the front page. I’m just not prone to signing up lightly, and I was a little suspicious.

    Thanks for the warning!

  • We are very sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused. This was not at all our intent and we thought we made it very clear during the process (the invite font was big and red).

    Since a few people have had a problem with this we have changed the process so that this will not happen in the future.

    Again we are very sorry for any inconvenience this has caused and appreciate your understanding and support.

    You can see our posting about this on our site @ http://blogger.goowy.com

    – goowy team

  • I don’t care about hearing from the ‘goowy team’! Where are the real people behind that.. they have a blog so why couldn’t a person with a name comment on this blog and on my other blog

  • Adriana,

    We are very sorry about the problem you had. We thought it was very clear during the import contacts process.

    We made a mistake and have taken quick action to correct it based upon the feedback of our members. That is the best that we can do.

    I hope you can understand.

    – Alex

  • Cliff S.

    I posted on y’alls blog. The upshot is that there’s no excuse in this day and age for what you did. None. From now on “goowy”=”skeezy spammers” to me and many others.

    I hope you can understand, Alex.

    (Incidently, the “only a few complained” bit isn’t going to help. ‘Cause that’s something spammers always say)

  • Great. Next you’ll be telling me the kidnapped Nigerian businessman whose ransom I just paid is a fake!

  • Robert Alderson

    Maybe an enterprising person can come up with software which automatically reads license agreements and scans for key phrases which might indicate that permission is being given for more than the user would knowingly agree to?

  • Keith

    Heck, you guys got a gracious apology, which has to be a first, surely.

  • Heck, you guys got a gracious apology, which has to be a first, surely.

    Yes, I must say their response (here and elsewhere) is refreshingly honest. Most companies in this position try to spin there way out of it and just make things worse… it is rather disarming to see them admit it was a terrible idea (which it was) and so credit where credit is due. It makes me much less likely to keep kicking them.

  • Tedd McHenry

    A similar thing happened with a cable TV company where I live. They created an new package of channels that was “optional” (and more expensive), but you were automatically “upgraded” unless you noticed the fine print and checked that you did not want to sign up for it.

    There was a big stink and I think it was made illegal, although I might be remembering that part wrong.

    An interesting ethical situation for a libertarian. I’m inclined to argue that that sort of thing is a form of fraud, but that might be stretching the definition of fraud a little.

  • guy herbert

    However, this one looked like it was an email from someone who’s web savvy and the only reason I followed the invite through was because of his reputation and credibility.

    With due respect to Goowy for their apology, and acknowledgement of the mistake, that is of course the danger of such marketing: it amounts to a form of “passing-off” by trading on the personal reputations of their users. I gave this a look before I decided I didn’t understand it, precisely because I know Adriana is a smart early adopter and might be worth following.

    On that basis, Goowy and the like conceivably are opening themselves to defamation suits along the lines of Tolley v Fry (more so if there are bugs in their product) if they are misrepresenting software professionals as personally recommending a product without having tried it.

  • Cato

    Alex have you got permission from Mattahan to use his Gant icons in your interface?

    They are copy write protected. You *do* know this, don’t you?

    See his Deviant page here:

    http://mattahan.deviantart.com/

    If not, you will have an even bigger problem at your hands!!

  • Brian

    Perry’s post was perhaps the most comprehensive deconstruction of an “Entity X did nothing wrong, we got spanked, amends were promptly made, but we’re still pissy” occurrence that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading on s-data. Keep them coming!

    I do disagree with the assertion that someone got “tricked”. Your friend approached Goowy and voluntarily established a business relationship. All the disclaimers and “technicallys” and “fair to says” won’t change this reality.

    Read the fine print. All of it, every time.

  • Wow; talk about an own goal. I wonder if these people realise that early adopters will probably be the least understanding about this sort of spamming mistake that those not so in the know. Well done to Perry for bringing this to our attention.

  • I wonder if Apple will have anything to say about their blatant rip-off of the OS X Dashboard…

  • Yes and we all know how Apple likes to be ripped off.

  • Now just to spare all the obsessive libertarians reading this from getting their knickers in a contractarian twist, just because something may not be immoral theft (i.e. Goowy did not ‘steal’ permission to spam in your name) it does not mean it should be socially respectable to trick people into doing something either.

    In my opinion libertarians should put this Goowy saga down to fraud; something we should be protected against. Then again, my libertarianism is about as pure and untainted as David Cameron’s conservativism at the moment…

  • Screw apologies, no matter how they grovel or how humble they may sound.

    These guys knew EXACTLY what they were doing, and they probably got a zillion hits out of the contact harvesting, which helps them get investor interest.

    I think I’ll link your story on my humble blog too, Perry.

    It’s time this nonsense came to an end, and if we can nail these turds HARD, then perhaps others might think twice.

  • Raw Carrot: no, it is not reasonable to describe this as fraud. Unwise, ill-advised, an outrage etc. but in no way fraudulent.

  • mack

    There is a program out there that scans EULAs for potential “landmines”. It’s called “EULAlyzer”. You can get it at the JAVACOOL website.

  • Bob

    It’s not fine print or being “tricked” when it’s in bold red text stating that you’ll be sending an invite to your friends to check out a new program. I’m not sure about you, but most of the people under my contact list, are friends, not some random people. They resolved the issue in such short amount of time, because some illiterates like yourself overlooked the bold red text. Now that it’s resolved, drop it, and go read a book.

  • Sark

    Well Bob, in GMail, every person your have ever sent an email to is in your contacts list. And the fact they are ALL going to get spammed is actually not that obvious.

  • “Read the fine print. All of it, every time.”

    Why? So that I can check if I am being tricked by clause 28.subclause 34 in which I agree to my house being given away?

    Potentially this is a case of an actual legal wrong.

    Contracts require consent. I have no problem with standard terms that contain ordinary and usual clauses. But if a contract has something out of the ordinary, potentially burdensome or particularly onerous, then unless it is clearly drawn to my attention, I have not consented to it. And the more annoying or burdensome it is, the bigger the warning signs need to be.

    I don’t know what the warning signs were in this case, but it certainly sounds as though they were inadequate.

  • Pat

    at least they changed the functionality very quickly after the complaints came in. that was wrong of them to set it to true by default in the first place. other than that though, its an impresssive app. i wanna see where they go with it…

  • Baby

    GOOWY IS AWESOME!!!

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    He was a gold and diamond merchant from Ashanti region of Ghana in West Africa I am from a polygamous family and my father has four wives and twenty-four children, am the eighth child and my mother is the last wife of my father and he entrusted all his valuable documents to her.

    Since we are from a polygamous home, after the death of my father, the whole family has been deserted. Now my elder brothers, sisters and their mothers are in search of my father’s documents but my mother who is in possession of the documents has refused to disclose the custodian of the documents to them, because they are all fighting for themselves and their selfish interest.

    Right now all I want from you is your bank account number where we can instruct the bank to transfer this money to you by telegraphic transfer, which takes about three working days.

    We are making this arrangement in order to avoid the rest of the children and their mothers, because if they find out they will take everything from us. It is for the mutual benefit of both of us, you will be entitle to twenty percent of the funds, as the owner of the account, the total amount in the bank is $28 million dollars.

    Please reply immediately with your Bank account details so that we can forward the information to the bank of ghana to expedite the transfer immediately.

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    TONY WILLIAMS JOHNSON